Casablanca is a bustling port city in Morocco, and the most cosmopolitan as well. Often mistakenly believed to be the country’s capital, it’s actually only the economic centre. While it doesn’t have the historic landmarks and vibe of other imperial cities, and doesn’t have many tourist attractions, it is not without value. See below for the top things to do when you visit.
1. Pray in the Hassan II Mosque
No visit to Casablanca would be complete without a visit to its iconic mosque, the largest in Africa, and gloriously perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Its stunning architecture and intricate craftsmanship make it one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Morocco is known for its craftsmanship, from its handcrafted ceramics to its hand woven silk, its intricate metalwork and zellige tilework, and this whole structure is a testament to and celebration of that. While the glass chandeliers and some white granite hail from Italy, everything else is Moroccan through and through. The most astounding thing for me was that though the Mosque was completed in the 1990s, the intricacy of the design adorning the walls, floor, fittings, ceilings, and everything else in sight are like something out of the past. This sort of attention to detail and elaborate work just aren’t common in modern works, and this is the perfect place to see it up close.
The guided tour is highly recommended for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as you learn so much about its construction, features, and place in Moroccan society, as well as gaining insights to Muslim life. Open to all visitors for tours, but open only to Muslims at prayer time, it is a hub of activity. It serves as a meeting place, a place for children to play, for exhibits, markets, and general enjoyment at all times, and is a lovely place to spend some time getting in touch with Moroccan culture.
2. Visit the Medina
Almost every city in Morocco has an old city or medina, with narrow lanes and market stalls selling all manner of things, from Chinese knockoffs and household items, to cheap souvenirs and fresh produce. While the Casablanca medina isn’t as impressive as those in other cities, it is a decent enough place to visit, just be sure to haggle to avoid over-paying.
3. Spend time at the United Nations Square
Just across the road from the old city, is the United Nations, and sitting in the square provides a perspective that juxtaposes the city’s history with its current modern state. On weekend evenings in particular, the surrounding streets come to life, with mark
et stalls set up selling trinkets and food. Locals come out to enjoy the festive atmosphere, tourists enjoy the spectacle. A good immersive experience is enjoying a bowl of steaming snails in flavoured broth, eaten with a toothpick, hunched over a trestle table in the middle of the street, alongside the locals.
4. Shop at the central market
Even if you’re staying at a hotel and can’t really purchase fresh prawns, juicy lamb, or vibrant bouquets, visiting the market is still a good opportunity to chat to local vendors, some of whom have been running family businesses for decades. The sight of all the fresh produce is a feast for the senses, and an interesting insight to daily life in these parts.
5. Feed pigeons at Mohamed V square
Okay, so we didn’t actually feed the pigeons, but there are so many fluttering about that it’s reminiscent of Trafalgar Square in that aspect. Bordered by municipal buildings, many from the 1920s, it also has a 50m high tower which you could climb to get views of the city. It was quiet when we visited, with only a few people dressed up as traditional Berber water sellers milling about, posing for photos in front of the fountain. In days gone by, they would bring water into the city from distant cisterns, but in modern times, their tinkling brassware is all for show. Note that they will expect a few euros if you take a photo of them, so be prepared or else don’t take the photo at all.
6. Marvel at Lourdes
The Eglise Notre Dame De Lourdes was built in the 1950s, and while the exterior isn’t particularly impressive, the stained glass windows designed by Gabriel Loire are certainly something spectacular. Depicting various biblical scenes, they are the church’s main drawcard and a reminder that even though Morocco is a Muslim country, there are landmarks for other faiths as well.
7. Relax at the corniche
Casablanca is after all a port town, and has some beach clubs and seaside restaurants from where you can enjoy the beach. Note that it is on the Atlantic ocean, so the water is quite cold and at most beach clubs, the patrons are usually enjoying swimming pools instead of the sea. It is also one of the strangest beachfronts we’ve seen, relatively undeveloped for a city of its size, and lacking the hubbub of other corniches.